I was reading The Point Forward's excellent article on Anderson Varejao and why the Cavaliers probably are not in a big rush to trade him. The case they make is that Andy V has as much value for the Cavs both on and off the court as he has to a contender, and the Cavs will have significant cap space even with Varejao on board. A trade prying away the best Brazilian big man in the league (sorry, Tiago and Nene) would have to be really enticing and not just a combination of expiring contracts and role players.
Sam's take on the subject provides the Spurs with the perfect complement to its front court without losing any vital pieces, but I doubt the Cavs would go for it, considering the reasons exposed by Golliver and Mahoney. Sure, the package the Spurs would be offering is not that bad, but Cleveland probably is not in as much of a hurry to get rid of Andy as some of us want them to be, and the team would have 28 other teams to negotiate with. I would be thrilled if they exchanged Jackson and Splitter for Andy, but I just don't see it happening.
If Varejao is going to be traded then productive young players, especially those on rookie deals, are probably going to be the asking price. Now, I have been obsessing about Varejao in a Spurs jersey for a long time; I think he would be the final piece that would transform the Spurs into an elite defensive squad with his pick and roll defense and outstanding rebounding. So the question I have been asking myself after reading both trade posts is, if getting Varejao means parting with Kawhi Leonard, should the Spurs consider it?
I hope Sam doesn't mind me getting into his turf, but this is the fake trade I came up with. The Spurs get Varejao and the Cavs get Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo, and of course Leonard. I believe it works for the Cavs because they are getting a replacement for Andy in Tiago, plus two guys on very affordable deals and their starting small forward of the future. Splitter is a downgrade over Varejao at this point, but the Cavs are trying to build for long term success and finishing with a bad record is a step in the right direction - a very high pick. They can re-sign Splitter this off season to be either their starter or ideally their first big off the bench for the foreseeable future and pursue a starter either via the draft or free agency. Maybe get the Zeller brothers together or take their chances on high risk high reward picks like Rudy Gobert or Nerlens Noel.
De Colo and Joseph are immediate upgrades over Donald Sloan and Jeremy Pargo and could grow up with Irving, Waiters and Thompson. With the guard situation sorted out, Kawhi Leonard starting at small forward with C.J. Miles backing him up, and Splitter, Thompson and Zeller up front, Cleveland is only a solid big away from the playoffs. Leonard also brings the type of work ethic Varejao provides, while being the perfect fit next to the ball-dominant Irving and Waiters. The 2013/14 Cavs are likely better with this trade. But what about the Spurs?
Varejao would be a god-send for a Spurs team that has traditionally struggled with perimeter oriented bigs and defending the pick and roll. When you add San Antonio's recent defensive rebounding woes, Varejao makes even more sense, as he leads the league in defensive, offensive and total rebounds, rebounds per game and trails only Reggie Evans in defensive rebound percentage. I love Splitter, but Varejao would be a huge upgrade, considering the Spurs' needs.
The loss of depth at point guard is not ideal, but the Spurs would still have Parker, Neal, Mills and Ginobili as creators. The biggest loss is Leonard, but the Spurs are not in a bad position to make up for it. Make no mistake, Jackson as a 30-minutes-a-game player is a downgrade over The Big Island and a Jackson-Pietrus/Anderson/D-League call up wing rotation is a worse combination than Leonard-Jackson. But the Spurs will be getting much, much better up front, and Danny Green is showing he can guard the three spot effectively. I'm convinced the Spurs are a better team after the trade, too.
But Leonard is younger and could blossom into a special player, so the question is how does the trade affect the silver and black in the future? And perhaps more importantly, should we care?
Tim Duncan has been playing so well this year that I am inclined to believe the Spurs can aspire to contend for longer than just this upcoming season. He and Manu, however, are on the wrong side of 30 and will slow down eventually. There's no Duncan on the way to allow Tim to take on the Robinson role; once Tim is gone, the Spurs will probably have to, for the first time in 25 years, consider rebuilding. Kawhi Leonard is a great young player, but he doesn't change that reality on his own. The Spurs will likely pick very low in this upcoming draft, a place where they have been hit or miss lately. The time to win is now.
A case could be made that keeping Leonard would help keep the championship window open and help with the rebuilding effort. Having your small forward of the future in place along with a few young players makes the team one slam dunk high pick away from relevancy. At the same time, if you believe, like I do, that Anderson Varejao would make the team significantly better in the short term, isn't that worth risking a hypothetical ideal future that may or may not materialize? If you don't like Andy, replace him with Josh Smith, Paul Millsap or whoever your heart desires. Would you trade Kawhi for them?
I honestly don't know. I think it depends on how much faith any one of us has in Leonard becoming a top 30 player in the next couple of years. But I think it's a question that's worth asking. How committed are the Spurs to contending right now?